It didn’t matter that the field was smaller or that the makeshift, old-fashioned “H” goalposts were being held in place by a couple of 45-pound weights.
Football is football, whether there are 22 or 12 players on the field. And a state championship is a state championship, and the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium is still home to the Dallas Cowboys.
For the first time Saturday, six-man football was played at AT&T Stadium, which has hosted boxing, basketball and motorcycle racing.
The day featured a pair of six-man state title games. Crowell defeated May for the Class A Six-Man Division I title followed by Grandfalls-Royalty winning the Division II title over Milford.
“It was crazy,” Crowell junior tight end/linebacker William Hogan said. “It felt like you were in a movie, Friday Night Lights or something like that, playing out there. It was awesome.”
There were several differences between the setup for a six-man game and the 11-man version. First, the six-man field is only 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. So the 10-yard lines became the goal lines, and temporary lines were drawn to mark the sidelines.
A quarter lasts only 10 minutes in six-man, and teams need 15 yards for a first down. Field goals are worth four points, and extra point kicks are worth two. Running or passing for a PAT is one point.
And scoring is frequent.
Crowell needed only two minutes and 41 seconds to score the first six-man TD at AT&T Stadium as quarterback Mitchell Parsley connected with Nathan Moya for a score.
May then scored three minutes later to take an 8-6 lead, but Crowell responded by scoring three consecutive TDs for a 28-8 advantage.
Crowell had a comfortable lead the rest of the way and won 78-52.
“Everyone keeps asking me if I’m going to stop smiling,” Crowell coach Nathan Hayes said. “But I feel like I’m about to cry.”
Said Parsley, the game’s offensive player of the game: “It was a pretty great feeling playing out here. It’s a whole different world for us. I can’t really explain it.”
For May, the experience will be just as memorable even though it lost.
“It’s going to be something these kids will never forget,” May coach Craig Steele said.
The second game saw Grandfalls-Royalty dominate from the start. The Cowboys jumped out to a 30-0 lead and eventually won 73-28 over Milford. The 45-point mercy rule ended the game with 6:28 left in the fourth quarter.
Crowell and Grandfalls-Royalty each won their first state title.
The UIL has been awarding six-man state titles since 1972, although history shows that six-man football has been played in the state since at least 1938.
The six-man game has a long and proud tradition throughout small towns in Texas. This year, 136 schools participated in the sport designed to give small schools a chance to compete.
But, as with any high school, football games extend beyond the coaches and players. From the band to the cheerleaders to the mascots, everyone gets excited for game days. And everyone knew how special it was to perform inside an NFL stadium on Saturday.
“This is the biggest thing that has happened in May that I can remember,” said Alexis Axt, a 15-year-old freshman who is May’s mascot. “The stadium is way bigger than I could imagine, too.”
Said May sophomore and cheerleader Catelyn McAbee: “It’s amazing to cheer here. Definitely a big deal for me.”
The state title runs impact the schools’ communities, too. They offer a chance for the small towns to boast about themselves, and one can learn quite a bit by just talking to a few fans.
Did you know Milford has a population of 729? Or that May is a town you pass through if you’re going to Brownwood? Or that Crowell is pronounced KRO-uhl, not CRAO-ell? Or how about the fact that more than half of Grandfalls-Royalty’s total enrollment (27) is on the football team (16)?
Most importantly, the communities care about their football and savored every minute of the state championship experience.
“To see our kids on the big screen and everything is kind of surreal,” said Elise Parsley, mother of Crowell’s quarterback, Mitchell Parsley. “It’s been absolutely awesome, and it’s also very humbling to know what they’re doing because they’ll remember it for the rest of their life.”
Said another Crowell mom, Stephanie Taylor, whose son Joey is the team’s running back: “It’s amazing. The stadium is beautiful … our town would fit in it. And Crowell has never been this far, so it’s something the boys can take with them the rest of their life.”
For Grandfalls resident Steve Cavazos, whose nephew was on the team, it was a memorable day as well.
“I’m speechless about what this team has done because they’re making history,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of them, and it’s just amazing to be here and watch them play.”